Molinuco Ecological Refuge An adventure amid waterfalls and volcanoes Photos: María Laura Vera Quito has such a wonderful location that exploring different spots for recreation is not a problem. A one-hour drive in any direction is all it takes to discover unique destinations, such as the Molinuco Ecological Refuge, a natural reserve located in the Sangolquí sector, to the southeast of Quito, on the eastern bank of the Pita River. A large forest of eucalyptus, pine and cypress tress fill 60 hectares, of which 15 hectares only have native vegetation and primary forest. It is nature at its best. Mountains, waterfalls and slopes that are ideal for all kinds of adventurous spirits will greet and surprise visitors. This touristic spot is equipped to fulfill your needs. Parking spaces, restaurant, lodging, camping area and a playground for children are available. It also offers horseback riding, fishing, soccer and volleyball courts, and even karaoke to be enjoyed in the evening. But the true adventure is in its many paths where you can experience the natural richness of the area. Walking thru a path surrounded by trees and guarded by small and medium waterfalls, in an environment flooded with pure air and accompanied by the refreshing sound of water, is magical. The river invites you to take a dip along your walk, and in some spots, a must is to dive from the small waterfalls. However, its waters are a thaw of the volcanoes Cotopaxi and Sincholagua, and thus, it is quite cold. Every effort during this upstream walk is worthwhile, as at the top you will reach the great waterfall of the Pita River, of approximately 60 meters high, that will take your breath away. In addition to the waterfalls, visitors can enjoy the Mirador of the Volcanoes. A path that is totally different from the previous ones, but not less surprising, will take you there. A little over an hour of walking and you will reach a height of 3,780 meters over sea level where the view of almost 360 degrees is privileged. Mountains, volcanoes and snowy peaks will capture your view. Cotopaxi, Antisana, Cayambe, Pichinchas, Ilaló, Pasochoa, Sincholagua, Corazón and a bit of the Iliniza are part of this amazing landscape you will enjoy. For overnight campers, climbing to the summit to admire the sunrise becomes a challenging idea. The cold Andes wind and altitude are factors to take into account because it makes the adventure a little more complex, as the intense freezing wind strikes with dawn. For those who are accustomed to difficult climates and have the right equipment, it is certainly a great option. There is also the option to reach the summit by car, preferably a 4 x 4. It is necessary to wear comfortable shoes, preferably rubber or leather to avoid slipping, waterproof jackets, and don’t forget to bring insect repellent and sunscreen. For photography lovers this is paradise. The constant flows of water and its various natural falls in the Pita River are ideal for long exposures with neutral density filters and polarizers. The abundant vegetation that surrounds the path is suitable to take pictures with amazing contrasts of light and the shadows that are formed over water and stones. The Molinuco Ecological Reserve, despite being a destination very close to Quito, has been shyly explored and that is part of its natural beauty. For those who do not have the possibility to spend the night in this wonderful natural sanctuary, visiting it during the day is an excellent idea thanks to the proximity to the city.